Front or top loader? Seven myths debunked

If you think a front loader won't work for you, you might be surprised.

Adding washing powder to top loader washing machine

We’ve been putting washing machines through the wringer since the 1960s and in that time, a pattern has emerged – front loaders perform better.

Our tests prove top loaders are tougher on fabrics, take up more space, guzzle water, and don’t remove dirt that well.

20jan front or top loader graph

Of course, clean laundry isn’t the only key to long-term happiness with your washing machine. You’ll also be hoping for years of hassle-free operation. Our latest reliability and owner satisfaction survey, which included 1052 top loaders and 1637 front loaders, showed both types were equally reliable (88% and 89%, respectively, bought new in the past five years didn’t have a fault). However, there was a marked difference in satisfaction, with front loader owners significantly happier with their purchase (81% were very satisfied versus 73% of top loader owners).

Why then, when it’s clear front loaders are better, do we still recommend the occasional top loader? Because, for some people, a front loader simply isn’t the right choice and, at Consumer, we’re all about helping you identify the product that best suits your circumstances. But if you’ve always assumed a front loader wouldn’t work for you, you might be surprised. Here, we dispel some misconceptions about both types.

"Front loaders are too small"

If you have jumbo-sized piles of laundry, don’t assume your only option is a top loader. The largest domestic-purpose washing machines are 16kg front loaders. The biggest top loaders, meanwhile, are 13kg.

"Only a top loader would fit"

If space is tight (less than 65cm, which is the minimum needed for a standard 60cm-wide machine with a few centimetres’ wiggle room), you’ll have no choice but a top loader. It’s slim pickings though, as most top loaders are at least as wide as the average front loader. They’re also generally deeper and always taller. A front loader is best for using space efficiently as it can double as a benchtop or allow a dryer to be conveniently mounted above.

"Front loaders take so long"

Front loaders generally take longer, but their cycles are often not as long as stated in the manual (when the load’s small, the programme usually gets shorter automatically). For example, the manual for one 8.5kg front loader said it would take about 278 minutes to complete a “Cotton, Cold, 1400rpm, option+, 3:20 to go” cycle, but our 3.5kg test load took less than half that. Most manmade fabrics are not as robust as cotton so a typical “mixed” cycle is even faster, but if you’re in a hurry, use the “quick” setting. Or, you could delay the start and let the machine do its thing while you’re out, then hang your laundry out later.

"Top loaders are cheaper"

19apr front or top loader price vs performance

Contrary to expectations, not all top loaders are cheap as chips and not all front loaders will burn a hole in your pocket.

In our reliability survey, the average top loader bought in the past five years was cheaper than the average front loader. That said, a third of top loaders cost more than $1000, whereas a third of front loaders came in under $1000.

"Front loaders get yucky"

The rubber seal of a front loader’s door can get mouldy. But you change the oil in your car, remove lint from the tumble dryer … so it shouldn't be a hassle to run a maintenance cycle and wipe down the rubber door seal. And it’s not just front loaders that require maintenance washes. Scrud (the waxy build-up that occurs when fabric softener comes into contact with detergent) can affect front and top loaders. Some machines have cleaning cycles, or else you could run a long, high-temperature cycle without detergent and clothes.

"Top-loading is more convenient"

“You can’t add anything to a front loader” is a common complaint, but that was then. These days, several manufacturers make front loaders with an “add item” hatch. As for people with mobility issues, it’s true they may find a top loader easier to access, but a pedestal can raise a front loader by between 30cm and 67cm, making the drum more accessible. Also, pedestals usually include a drawer, which is handy as you may no longer be able to use the top of the machine as a work or storage surface.

"Front loaders use more power"

Our annual running cost figures assume one “normal” wash cycle a day, at 26¢ per kilowatt hour. This makes front loaders seem power-hungry, but the difference between top and front loader running costs for a “normal” cycle are negligible. In our tests, a 7.5kg Electrolux front loader used $10 a year in electricity, whereas a 7.5kg Samsung top loader burned through $6 in electricity.

When it comes to being water-wise, though, front loaders can’t be beat. At the time of writing, the least water-efficient front loader in our database, a 7.5kg Samsung, scored 73% for water efficiency. That’s a lot better than the most water-efficient top loader tested, a 7kg Haier, with just 64%.

The top performers

The top performers

14jan washing machines washing basket

The top performers

We’ve tested the dirt removal, gentleness and efficiency of a wide range of washing machines. Use our database to find the model and price that’s right for you.

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Member comments

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Jeanette J.
06 Jun 2020
Would like my top loader back

Needed to replace my F&P top loader after 16yrs and was recommended a front loader in store. Purchased a Electrolux Inverter 8.5kg. I have regretted this purchase every wash since. It has no heavy duty cycle and makes a poor job of farm soiled clothes. Worse problem is how it makes natural fibre clothing (the bulk of my wash) hard and scratchy. The only way I can have usable clothes is to use a drier to soften them up. Very uneconomical. Such a disappointing purchase after so much promotion of them. When I can afford will replace with a top loader again.

Claire T.
08 Jul 2020
Would Like my top Loader Back

Have you tried reducing the final spin speed. Front loaders remove a lot more water making the fabric fibres harder/ scratchy. I found that if I reduce the spin speed therefore removing less water my towels were softer - naturally they take longer to dry but no longer than with my old top loader.

Richard N.
04 May 2020
We love our Miele front loader

We think our Miele front loader is the bomb. Our first one is still going strong after almost 12 years (we gave it to a relative) and the second one is now about five years old.

We have it on a concrete floor but I'm aware they can bounce around on a wooden floor. Our relative installed a concrete block base to elevate the machine off the floor about 12" and that works fine. There are also special brackets you can buy to keep the machine secure.

I always use the Short button which drastically reduces the cycle length (less than one hour) and the clothes are washed perfectly. There's also a 20 min express wash. With both machines, you have several minutes when you can still open the door after the wash cycle begins so add a forgotten item.

In winter we wear lots of merino clothing and using a 30 or 40 degree wool cycle and wool detergent for a front loader - it's a gem.

Periodically I do a towel wash on 60 degrees which is also the 'hygiene cycle' that also helps keep the machine clean. Most everyday washing is done on a short cottons or minimum iron (Synthetics) cycle of 30-40 degrees. I never use a cold wash.

It's true the towels will feel harder and especially so since we do not have a dryer but they only feel hard the first time you use them when clean.

Overall the front loader gives a superior wash and is much more gentle on clothes. I would never return to a top loader.

E R.
02 May 2020
front loader shredding my cottons

i have a Panasonic 10kg front second after the first one died under warranty. They absolutely clean the clothes better than my old F&P top loader which lasted about 12 years due to several repairs. I think if I have to buy another one though, I will go back to a top loader as my towels, tshirts and other cotton items are being absolutely brutalised by the last two machines. Never had a problem with top loaders all my long life and I've used the same detergent for over 10 years. Only started happening with a front loader.

Jonathan P.
27 Jan 2020
Running costs???

What calculator did you use for your electricity calculations!

A typical front load washer uses around 260 kw/hrs per year when used once a day for a year. At your rate of $0.26 per kw/hr this calculates out to around $68. This is a long way from the $10 quoted in the article.

Similarly, a top loader is rated at somewhere around 400 kw/hrs which comes out at around $104 for the year.

I think something here needs correcting.

Consumer staff
28 Jan 2020
Re: Running costs???

Hi Jonathan,

Feedback from our members is that most people run a cold cycle. We therefore consider that a “normal” wash. To reflect a real-world experience, we test washing machines using a “normal” cold wash. If there isn’t one, we use the closest approximation. As a result, you'll sometimes see differences between what the energy label says and what we’ve measured.

With the top loader example, the manufacturer used a “water-saving, hot & cold, mid-power wash, water level 10” cycle. Using a cold wash (as we did) would have consumed less energy. With the front loader, the real-world “normal” cycle we used wasn’t as long as stated in the manual (we test with 3.5kg of clothes, and when the load’s small, the programme usually gets shorter automatically), nor was it as hot.

This Energywise calculator illustrates the differences nicely. With it set on 4-star energy, 7.5kg capacity, 7 washes a week and 100% cold, the annual energy use is 51kWh ($13.37). Set it to 100% warm washes and it jumps to 246kWh or $64.61.!/washing-machine

Kind regards,
Julia - Consumer NZ staff

Edward P.
03 Jun 2019
front loaders cause more vibrations if not on a concrete floor

Be very cautious before installing a front loader in a wooden floored (piled) house. After buying our house we discovered the previous owner's rennovations (moving the washing machine location) meant the washing machine was over a poorly-supported part of the floor and made the whole house shake (we tried 2 brands of front loader so it isn't brand specific). Although we didn't try a top-loader, physics suggests it wouldn't have this problem as the forces are parallel to the floor not perpendicular. The solution was to cut a hole in the floor and build a concrete plinth for the machine that sits on the dirt below and finishes level with the floor so it technically isn't touching the house.

R & R B.
12 May 2019
Add an item easy.

When i was searching for a front loader that could have an item added to it, my salesperson steered me away from the more expensive advertised "Add an item" machine to the pause button on most front loaders. The machine pauses, 3 seconds for the door to unlock, throw in the sock and we are away washing again. Easy peasey! (and no, the water does not come pouring out onto the floor)

Dawn N.
11 May 2019
Front loader convert

We lived and worked in UK for some years and because of housing style had to use a front loader in the kitchen. The original Hotpoint was a total disaster mechanically but we replaced it with a Bosch which we found was superb, We brought it back to NZ with us and only replaced it because it finally wore out aged 17 years! We bought another Bosch front loader and because of advancing years my husband built a dais for it to stand on in the laundry. Utterly convinced I dont want a top loader ever again. It washes brilliantly, has a vast array of settings so I can do all my delicates in 15 minutes, and I run a machine clean cycle every month-ish. To the person who asked about her machine walking and vibrating, in my experience that usually means the machine is not balanced (Check the feet/floor)

Patricia J.
11 May 2019
front loader walkabout

I bought a front loader after years of top loaders and it is fine BUT no one has been able to stop it from walking and the vibration is significant - any suggestions?

Sierra R.
24 Jul 2019
Walking front loader

I haven't tried this yet, but my dad suggested putting a concrete paving stone under the machine (one as big as the floor area of the machine). The idea is that tge paving stone will create a furner surface and stop the vibrations.

Linda M.
11 May 2019
Front loaders vs backs

One of my issues with a front loader is having to bend way over to retrieve articles from its depths - and another is that if you want to stop the machine and retrieve an item, you can't. For fibre craft workers, top loaders rule!

11 May 2019
Front loaders vs backs

I totally agree with Linda M but I have room to have my washer and dryer side-by-side so I have them mounted 600mm from the floor.